One Misplaced Pass Can Lead to Many Possible Faults
By Suzanne Dodd
Crushing an opponent’s overpass can be one of the surest ways for a team to win a point and gain momentum. It’s a foolproof way to excite any hard-hitting attacker, the attacker’s team and the fans. Big middle hitters dream about smacking down the overpass while the defenders flail about helplessly.
When a team’s first contact either enters the plane of the net or passes completely beyond the plane of the net, an overpass has occurred. A smart opposing hitter will take advantage of the poor pass and go for the kill, setting up as many as five possible outcomes on the play. That creates a lot of information for a first referee to process — all within a split second.
When any part of the ball enters the plane of the net, either team has a right to the next contact. If the overpassed ball occurs on service reception, the receiving team will rarely have a blocker in place for defense and the missed pass often results in a strong attack or carefully directed blocking action by the serving team. If the misplaced pass occurs at any other time during the play, blockers and/or setters will often be at the net, creating a more challenging situation for the referees.
With at least five possible outcomes on an overpass, a referee must be in good position, pay attention to the timing of the contact(s), anticipate who might make the play, and show good court awareness.
The first cue the referee should look for is the position of the ball with respect to the net plane. A ball may be legally contacted by either team once any part of the ball enters the vertical plane of the net.
To judge ball position, the referee should be centered directly down the plane of the net as the ball approaches. The referee’s focus should then quickly shift to the ball to determine who contacted it first if there are players at the net.
It is important to note that while an overpass may not appear to be an attack hit, by definition, any ball directed toward the opponent’s court is considered an attack hit and may be legally blocked by the opponent. However, attacking a ball that is entirely on the opponent’s side of the net is illegal. A referee must be sure that the ball entered the net plane before the opponent may attack it.
Since a ball that is in the plane of the net is fair game for either team, if players on both sides simultaneously contact the ball, it is possible for the ball to momentarily come to rest between the two opponents. A “joust” is a legal contact, and play continues. After a joust, if the ball immediately lands out of bounds, the team on the opposite side of the net is at fault as it has provided the impetus to send the ball out of bounds.
Timing and anticipation are important skills for making the correct call at the net. When a ball is falling near the net, players on both sides may attempt to make a play on the ball. Therefore, the referee must anticipate the timing of the contact(s), and determine who hit the ball first.
The sequence of contacts is especially relevant when a back-row player is involved in the play at the net. Identifying the setter’s position before a rally begins is imperative so that the correct call can be made immediately. However, if a referee is unsure about the setter’s position at the time of contact, it is acceptable to make a delayed fault call for an illegal attack or block by the back-row player. When a back-row setter contacts the ball that is in or near the plane of the net, the key question to ask is: Which team made the next contact? If the opponents made the next contact, then an illegal attack should be called if the ball was entirely above the top of the net when the back-row setter contacted it. If, instead, the next contact is made by a player on the same team as the back-row setter, then play continues. The result is entirely different if the back-row setter is near the net but the opponents contact the ball first and block the ball into the back-row setter. If the back-row setter is reaching higher than the height of the net, then the setter becomes an illegal blocker.
As if concentrating on the position of the ball, sequence of events, positions of the players, and proximity to the net is not enough, the referee must also judge the legality of the ball contact. An overpassed ball can present problems for the next player to contact it, but especially for a setter trying to save the ball. In trying to keep the ball on the same side of the net, the setter may attempt a set and double contact the ball. Maybe the setter will decide to go for the kill and dump the ball, in which case a caught or thrown ball becomes a possibility. The referee must also look for the opponent to over-control the ball during a block, making a catch/throw a possibility.
The overpass creates a demanding situation for a referee. There are many factors for the referee to process, many possible faults, and some ways for play to continue. The referee must be on his or her toes to determine: a) the location of the ball in relation to the net; b) who touches the ball first; and c) the position of the player(s) who make contact with the ball. Further increasing the complexity of the situation, the referee must also be alert to net contact by either team, possible centerline violations and the height of the ball at contact.
Be ready. Know the rules. Think fast.
Suzanne Dodd, Greenville, S.C., is a PAVO National volleyball referee and line judge and a USA Volleyball Junior National referee. She is adjunct faculty at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., in the Department of Kinesiology. ∗